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New Wikistrat Discussion Forum: The Future of Warfare


 

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What is the future of warfare? Which aspects of war are immutable and which are likely to evolve? How will the nature and character of warfare change over the coming century?

To answer these questions, Wikistrat launched a Discussion Forum this week called “The Future of Warfare.” Over the course of the next couple of weeks, analysts can share their thoughts on future threats, technology and the changing role of the individual soldier.

The past three decades have seen the rapid adoption of new technologies in all domains of warfare. The advent of unmanned systems, precision strike, persistent and expanded sensors and cyberwarfare — to name but a few of the dramatic changes — seems to indicate a new “Revolution in Military Affairs.”

This discussion is intended to carry on this conversation and question whether or not such a revolution has occurred — and what the future may hold.

WS AnalystsAre you interested in participating in conversations like these? Apply for membership to the analytic community here.

Stay tuned to Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter channels for updates and insights from this simulation!

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New Wikistrat Simulation: The Ottoman Presidency?


 

The Ottoman Presidency banner

In anticipation of the Turkish presidential election, Wikistrat launches a two-day “speed simulation” today. Analysts are asked to assess whether Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the current prime minister, will be able to create an “imperial presidency” if indeed he wins the election and whether a victory will enable or frustrate his “Neo-Ottoman” foreign policy.

Erdoğan is widely expected to win his country’s first direct presidential election on August 10. Opinion polls have put him consistently ahead of his closest rival, the veteran diplomat Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu, although recent surveys have given Erdoğan less than 50 percent support, raising the possibility that a second-round runoff will be needed to determine the winner.

An election victory would be a welcome boost for Erdoğan who has been accused of abusing his office to stave off corruption probes. The premier is popular among conservative Sunni Turks, especially in the Anatolian heartland, but also among the urbanized middle classes that have benefited from his relatively liberal economic policies. However, in the major cities and among the young, he is increasingly seen as marginalizing non-pious and secular Muslims while pursuing a reckless foreign policy.

The question in this election, then, is not whether Erdoğan will win, but what he will do with his victory — and how the opposition will react.

WS AnalystsAre you interested in participating in simulations like these? Apply for membership to the analytic community here.

Stay tuned to Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter channels for updates and insights from this simulation!

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Ask a Senior Analyst — Norvell DeAtkine


 

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts, Norvell DeAtkine. Questions and Mr. Campbell’s answers are transcribed below.

Norvell DeAtkine

Norvell DeAtkine is a retired U.S. Army Colonel of the field artillery with service in Germany, Korea and Vietnam. He lived and worked in the Arab World for nearly nine years, graduating from the Arab Studies Program at the American University of Beirut. He later served as an advisor to the Jordanian and Egyptian Armies and conducted many short training missions for various Gulf Armies, including his operation as a liaison to the British Trucial Oman Scouts prior to British departure from the Gulf.

Mr. DeAtkine was a seminar director with the Regional Studies program at the John F. Kennedy Special Warfare Center and School for over eighteen years where he primarily taught special operations officers — which included two short tours as a mentor with psychological operations units in Iraq. Other assignments have included stints with the analytical branch of the CIA, Iraqi Intelligence cell of the DIA and the USMC Cultural Studies Center at Quantico.

André de Vries: Do you think the “caliphate” proclaimed by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in Iraq is maintainable in the long run?

Answer: I feel more confident writing about the past than I do about the future, but as history replays itself so often in the Arab world, I can write on the historical aspects that will likely come into play at some point.

My bottom line upfront is that the “Islamic State” as it exits today will not have a long lifespan. It is, in the words of Fouad Ajami (writing about other Arab grand schemes), “The Dream Palace of the Arabs,” another grandiose movement like pan-Arabism that has no foundation in reality. As the noted Arab journalist Hisham Melhem puts it in a recent article in Al-Arabiya,

One does not know whether to laugh or to cry at the sight of the self-proclaimed Caliph Ibrahim addressing the Muslim Umma [community] as its new righteous ruler. This is the man who is straddling a large swath of Iraq and Syria, and imposing a primitive form of an absolute intolerant religious rule that intimidate Muslims and terrifies Christians. For years to come, we will be asking: how did we reach such a nadir? How did it happen? How did we engulf ourselves in this endless darkness?

Perhaps more importantly, the new Islamic State has little in the way of economic resources and will be surrounded by enemies and peoples fearful of its expansion. First of all, the ISIS brand of Islam is not popular, not even among the Sunnis, nor even other radical groups of Islamists for whom they claim their leadership. Much of its expansion in Syria and Iraq has been based on the unpopularity of the existing governments. Now having assumed control of this territory, they must administer it. It is easier to conquer than govern. Many observers have opined that Islamists in power are the best cure for their pretensions. Although one cannot compare the Muslim Brotherhood of Egypt to the ISIS, nevertheless the inability to govern on slogans like “Islam is the Answer” has been borne out in the case of Egypt.

ISIS is a movement with no real program to govern and as a movement they, like all similar totalitarian movements, must expand or die. They will not and cannot be satisfied with simply the expanse of mostly desert they control in Syria and Iraq. The surrounding governments know this and belatedly some like Turkey and Saudi Arabia have realized the genie is out of the box. The governmental support previously (however covert it has been) coming from elements inside both Saudi Arabia and Turkey will end and the implacable hostility of Iran, the Kurds and the Shia and Alawi of Syria and Iraq will always pose an existential threat to the Islamic State.

Little noticed, along the Turkish-Islamic State border, the great majority of people are the Alevis of Turkey. They form a large minority in turkey. They are an offshoot of Shia Islam and have never taken kindly to the oppressive Sunnism of the Turkish government and hate the Islamist movement, which in the Arab world has always been Sunni-oriented.

Looking at history, I am unconvinced that the Sykes-Picot division of the Arab world into states is dead. Despite the fact that the Arab elite has always portrayed it as the reason for the weakness of the Arab world, the regimes have shed enormous amounts of blood to keep the borders intact.

The tentacles of the state apparatus in so many areas of human life are very difficult to uproot.

For these reasons, I do not see a long life for the “Islamic” State. (more…)

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Capt. Wayne Porter Joins Wikistrat August 1st


 

Wayne Porter

Wikistrat is pleased to announce that upon completion of his PhD work in the application of system dynamics to strategic planning, Capt. Wayne Porter, U.S. Navy (Ret.) will be joining the staff of Wikistrat — the world’s first crowdsourced consultancy specializing in national security and geopolitics.

Wayne’s training and experience in modeling complex systems brings valuable expertise to Wikistrat at a time when the company is expanding its analytic services to include persistent monitoring capabilities through crowdsourced datamodeling for leveraging big data feeds for both the public and private sectors.

His work in strategic planning on the personal staff of both the Chief of Naval Operations and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has received international recognition. His multiple overseas tours of duty included serving as the Assistant Chief of Staff (Intelligence) for U.S. and combined naval forces in the Persian Gulf. He is the co-author of “A National Strategic Narrative,” published by the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, and has written widely in publications that include the Harvard Business Review, Hotspring Journal Quarterly and Naval Institute Proceedings. His work has been cited internationally by such luminaries as former British Foreign Minister David Milliband, former Israeli Foreign Minister Shlomo Ben-Ami and current U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan.

Wayne is a Walton Fellow at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability and holds two Masters of Science Degrees from the Naval Postgraduate School. He will soon be receiving his PhD in Information Sciences and System Dynamics from the same institution where he has served as Chair, Systemic Strategy and Complexity.

Wayne’s interests and strengths lie in applying systems analysis to corporate and governmental strategic planning.

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New Wikistrat Simulation: Southeast Asia 2035


 

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This week, Wikistrat launches a new, two-week simulation to identify the drivers of economic growth and stagnation in Southeast Asia — “Southeast Asia 2035: A Realized Economic Promise?”

Southeast Asia’s growth outperformed other regions during the global financial crisis of 2008-2009 and current projections indicate continued economic expansion in the region. As production costs are increasing in China, multinational firms look to Southeast Asia for its low cost of production (large pool of workers and cheap land), its growing middle class (constituting a broad consumer base) and its rising education levels.

In addition, during the past decade, countries in Southeast Asia have forged stronger economic ties with North America, Europe and the BRICS via trade agreements and investment treaties. Intraregional trade networks are flourishing at the same time: Singaporean, Malaysian and Thai firms are going international and ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is taking steps towards creating a single market (à la the EU) with free movement of goods, capital and people.

Yet, despite these reasons for optimism — which further include Southeast Asia’s relative political stability and regulations that favor both domestic and foreign firms in trade and investment — there are clouds on the horizon. As income levels rise, so do wages and thereby the region’s low-cost advantage. Squeezed in between other low-wage locations and advanced high-income countries, Southeast Asia may stagnate economically unless the region can push its way to high-income status with innovation, use of advanced technology and highly-skilled labor.

Over the next two weeks, Wikistrat’s analysts will identify ways the region can achieve such success — as well as the pitfalls Southeast Asian countries must steer clear of if they are to avoid falling into the middle income trap.

Additionally, Wikistrat’s analysts will outline the implications of either economic success or failure on the region’s commercial and political relationships as well as the social fabric of individual nations. In particular, analysts are asked to consider the nexus of political and social change in conjunction with the economic trajectory of each country. Will Southeast Asia try to replicate the Chinese model or will the region’s growing middle classes demand more political power?

WS AnalystsAre you interested in participating in simulations like these? Apply for membership to the analytic community here.

Stay tuned to Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter channels for updates and insights from this simulation!

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Ask a Senior Analyst — Leslie Campbell


 

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts, Leslie Campbell. Questions and Mr. Campbell’s answers are transcribed below.

Leslie Campbell

Leslie Campbell is a Senior Associate and Regional Director for the Middle East and North Africa at the National Democratic Institute (NDI) where he has worked since 1994. He has a particular interest in Algeria, Iraq and Yemen where NDI pioneered innovative programs encouraging political coalition-building and citizen engagement in political processes. Mr. Campbell has also traveled to Bahrain on a number of occasions to encourage political reform.

Mabel Gonzalez: I assume that an alternative to Nouri al-Maliki in Iraq should emerge from the Shia bloc since they won the majority of seats. I have two questions. Do you see a candidate who might be able to win support from Kurdish and Sunni (and secular) groups? And what impact will the call to arms and mobilization of Shia militia have, supported by Grand Ayatollah Sistani? Can it hamper the political process?

Answer: While estimates vary, Shia Muslims comprise at least 60 percent of Iraq. While not forming a monolithic voting bloc, it is safe to say that Iraq’s Shia population speaks as one voice in opposition to returning to the days of minority Sunni rule. While Iraq has many political problems, elections have been run reasonably well with U.N. and international supervision. Many Sunni voters stayed away from the polls in the 2014 elections, especially in Anbar Province, but voters turned out in reasonable numbers in Baghdad, southern Iraq and Kurdish areas. In other words, there was a political process where the voters expressed their views and that process can’t and shouldn’t be ignored.

Having said that, there is no long-term solution to the ISIS/Islamic State that doesn’t start with a more inclusive government, so international pressure (from Iran as well) has to be exerted to ensure that the Shia political power-brokers pave the way for meaningful Sunni political participation.

It is unlikely that the power-sharing agreement that stipulates that the prime minister will be Shiite, the president Kurdish and the speaker of Parliament Sunni will change, so further power sharing will likely be operationalized through cabinet positions — Lebanon-style.

Over the longer term, radically decentralized federalism may be a preferable alternative to fragile and unwieldy central power sharing mechanisms.

I don’t think there is any question that the next premier will be Shia — I doubt that Ayatollah Al-Sistani would accept anything less — but it could be a secular Shia (there are several well-known names) and/or a compromise candidate agreed to by Ammar al-Hakim’s ISCI alliance, Daawa and Muqtada al-Sadr, but still acceptable to the Sunni moderates. Just who that would be is hard to say right now, but there are a number of figures whose names are being mooted — the most prominent being Adil Abdul Mahdi, former finance minister and vice president.

The Shia call to arms itself is not a huge obstacle to the political process — I don’t think anyone would expect the Shia leaders to take a pacifist stance — but widespread sectarian violence could be a deal-breaker. Reports of large numbers of bodies being discovered in Baghdad are chilling. If this is the beginning of tit-for-tat sectarian slaughter, then political reconciliation will become difficult if not impossible for moderate Sunni leaders. (more…)

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New Wikistrat Simulation: An ISIS Spillover Into Jordan


 

An ISIS Spillover Into Jordan banner

The radical Islamist group ISIS’s offensive in Iraq poses a serious security threat to its neighbor Jordan, but there might be some opportunities for the kingdom as well.

Earlier this week, Wikistrat launched a 72-hour speed simulation in which its analysts were asked to consider an ISIS infiltration into Jordan and to outline the follow-on effects to the country’s political stability up until 2015 in case such an incursion does take place.

Given the recent capture of three border crossings into Syria and Jordan (as well as additional towns nearby), there are fears that Jordan might be the next target of the Sunni militant group formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS). It currently refers to itself as “The Islamic State,” having declared a caliphate in the northwest of Iraq and the east of Syria.

Jordan is already under great pressure, hosting hundreds of thousands of Syrian, Iraqi and Palestinian refugees — some of them members of ISIS and other Al Qaeda-linked groups. The country’s diverse population, originating from a variety of ethnic backgrounds, makes it additionally vulnerable to the influence of radical forces.

An ISIS infiltration in Jordan would not only pose a threat to the stability of the Hashemite kingdom. It could by extension also drag Israel and the United States into the conflict.

Yet there might be upsides for Jordan, too. External support to fight off ISIS could prove to be a long-term boon to its security abilities while the appearance of a common enemy may be the impetus Jordanians need to set aside their differences and endeavor to maintain national unity.

These possibilities are currently being explored by Wikistrat’s analysts. Findings from the simulation will soon be published here at Wikistrat’s blog and across our social media.

WS AnalystsAre you interested in participating in simulations like these? Apply for membership to the analytic community here.

Stay tuned to Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter channels for updates and insights from this simulation!

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Ask a Senior Analyst — Dr. Chip Beck


 

Wikistrat’s Facebook and Twitter followers recently engaged in a 24-hour exclusive Q&A session with one of Wikistrat’s Senior Analysts, Dr. Chip Beck. Questions and Dr. Beck’ answers are transcribed below.

Chip Beck

After serving as a “soldier, sailor, spy and artist” for many years, Dr. Chip Beck retired from the CIA, U.S. Navy and U.S. State Department in 1993, 1996 and 2010, respectively. Today, he works as a writer, editor, freelance contractor and continues with his art. He has degrees in International Relations, Middle Eastern Studies, Organizational Leadership and Conflict Resolution.

Carlos A. Puentes: Given the confluence of events such as U.S. policies on immigration and pressure to reform on Cuban trade, wouldn’t a first step to both be the liberalization of trade policies and update the Cuban immigration status as defined by the Cuban Adjustment Act of 1966? Reduction/normalization on barriers implies a change in relationship vis-à-vis nations and suggests fewer belligerences and as such implies a less hostile environment in Cuba toward its own citizens and a lack of need to open U.S. borders, thus a convergence with stricter immigration controls or entry opportunity in the US.

Answer: If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you already have — the status quo.

In the case of U.S. relations with Cuba, the status quo is not working for either side; it is an unnecessary relic of the Cold War that should (in this writer’s opinion and direct experience with the island) be scrapped.

Fifty-five years of a unilateral trade and travel embargo has kept U.S. influence off the island more than it has isolated Cuba. It should be clear to all but the most obstinate that America’s outdated means and methods did not and will not achieve America’s goals and objectives of a freer or more democratic Cuba.

The U.S. does not need to change its goals and objectives, but the means and methods employed for five decades are counterproductive and need to be jettisoned for positive engagement that works.

During the Cold War, this writer worked against or confronted Cuban Expeditionary Forces or operatives on three continents (Indochina, Africa, Central America). Some of those situations resulted in direct contact under less than diplomatic circumstances.

Subsequently, between 1998-2001, I made five (legal) trips to Cuba to seek information on Americans missing in various geographic areas during the Cold War. Because I had once demonstrated my humanity to some beleaguered Cuban soldiers in a time of war, Havana was open to assisting me — and they did so by opening up old classified files, letting me read the original reports in Spanish, and giving me access to former covert operators for interviews that I was allowed to record on film.

Although I was by then retired (prior to September 11, 2001, after which time I came back into government) and entered Cuba as a freelance journalist, the Cubans knew my background as a U.S. Navy Commander and former intelligence officer. Obviously Cuban intelligence (DGI) was curious as to why I was asking to enter their country. I told them up front that I was (a) not defecting, (b) not spying on them, but (c) I wanted access to classified information that I believed Havana could share without harming Cuba’s own national interests.

When the Cubans asked “what is in it for us,” I answered that I had encountered them on three fronts of the Cold War’s battle lines but believed that the time was long past two for our two nations to resolve our differences by talking about them directly. I noted that I was writing articles about missing Americans from several wars and if Havana cooperated with my investigation, I would publish that cooperation in the accounts.

The Cubans, after deliberation at the highest levels, did provide considerable assistance — much more than I anticipated — and I kept my word by including the facts in my articles.

At several points, senior Cuban government officials told me that Cuba wanted “to change the dynamics of its relationship with the U.S.” They said the government was willing to assist the U.S. with counterterrorism and counternarcotics in ways that were simple but game-changing; help out with regional catastrophes through their medical teams teaming up with U.S. logistical assets; but more importantly they wanted to sit down and officially discuss all bilateral issues “with no pre-conditions” — except U.S. recognition that Cuba is a sovereign nation.

When I asked if President Castro was “on board” with this path, I was informed by a senior official that “I could not tell you this if he was not open to it.”

One of the more interesting aspects of my five trips to Cuba was hearing history and stories told from the “other side of the coin.” Many accounts, which I will not relate here, were quite funny, while others were thought provoking and illuminating. I was able to listen to their points of view with my own background knowledge of Cold War operations and realities, so I could discern facts from fiction.

To their credit, the Cubans did not harangue me within the framework of Cold War polemics, but were very practical, even admitting their own political mistakes and over-the-top revolutionary fervor of the time.

“We depended too much on America before the revolution and too much on the Soviets after it. Now we know we need to depend on ourselves,” they said. An important part of their independent frame of mind, however, is to mend the relationship with the U.S. I heard this stated goal repeatedly from senior members of the military, intelligence service, foreign ministry, parliament and their executive branch.

Toward that end, the Cuban officials were (and still are) open to sitting down with the U.S., as they reminded this analyst they have “done with Canada and Europe.” They offered to work out all bilateral differences, including nationalized property, open trade and human rights. “But how can we resolve our differences if Washington will not sit down and talk to us?”

They have a point.

Why not open a public and transparent dialogue with Havana and about Cuba? America has diplomatic relations with the regimes in Moscow, Beijing and Hanoi, so why is Cuba the exception? Washington insiders would swoon if Pyongyang would only offer them the same openings that Havana suggested during my trips twelve-fourteen years ago.

From the Korean War through the Indochina Wars (Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia), the descendent regimes of our enemies, with which we still do business and have diplomatic relations or negotiations, were responsible for wars that caused over 100,000 deaths of American military service personnel in direct conflict.

Putting aside Cuba’s defensive actions at the Bay of Pigs and a handful of out-of-sight Cold War dramas that might have accounted for three-seven American deaths, Havana’s actions were tantamount to a finger in the eye as opposed to bayonets in the heart.

Technically, an important part of war is to conclude conflict with a negotiated peace. America was never officially or constitutionally at war with Cuba from a congressionally declared standpoint, so why does the U.S. government insist on continuing a negative environment without a peaceful resolution today? To this analyst, whose credentials include fighting communists on the battlefield, the U.S. behavior speaks volumes about unproductive and irrational stubbornness.

As the more powerful nation, the U.S. should take the first steps at changing a contentious relationship that it has fostered for too long. Waiting until Fidel and Raul die is simply the wrong approach in terms of understanding the Cuban psyche. That is like telling someone you can’t be their friend until their mother and father dies. The time to mend fences is now, not some ill-defined “later.”

If the U.S. wants to have influence in Cuba, it needs to be present, not absent from the Cuban scene. America needs to demonstrate the positive nature of our society and the power of our friendship to the eleven million Cubans on the island. Washington needs to abandon the negative mindset entrenched by holdovers from the Cold War and a few resentful old men who lost a political battle half a century ago.

If the U.S. can settle its affairs with Hanoi, there is no reason why the same cannot be done with Havana.

Having traveled from one end of Cuba to the other, talking to whomever I wanted, I am convinced that the time for resumption of bilateral relations is long overdue. When people learned I was a Yanqui and not a Canadian or Brit, they were ecstatic and welcoming, regardless of their views of Fidel (positive and negative). As one maritime official overlooking the Havana harbor said to me, “What are you guys waiting for? Be friends and come back.”

One single mom (with a college degree) that I talked with one evening along Havana’s seaside Malecòn had some excellent advice for my readers. She said, “If you tell a Cuban what to do, he will do the opposite just to spite you. If you [Americans] stop telling us what to do, things will work out exactly like you want.” (more…)

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The New Mesopotamia — A New Spatial Order: Report Released


 

The future of Iraq will be informed by the interaction between four significant geopolitical axes, a Wikistrat report released today argues. What Wikistrat calls the “New Mesopotamia” will be shaped by the radical Sunnis, the Shi’a, the Kurds and the world powers.

The New Mesopotamia report

Last week, Wikistrat ran a two-day speed simulation in which its analysts were asked to identify and explore the geopolitical axes that are likely to emerge in Iraq over the next two years, and to forecast a range of scenarios for how each axis will shape the region.

Rather than exploring the region’s dynamics from the perspective of the Iraqi state, the simulation looked at four significant geopolitical axes — each represents a system of actors sharing similar values and objectives regarding its future.

In the report released today, Wikistrat Senior Analyst Jeffrey Itell argues that Iraq has essentially broken down into three component parts that are relatively homogenous in ethnic and religious terms. Each is capable enough to defend its territory but too weak to encroach on any of the others.

The radical Sunni axis is concentrated between the Euphrates and Tigris Rivers and seeks to carve out a polity that stretches from what is now Syria to the gates of Baghdad. While some factions within this axis are backed by the Sunni monarchies in the Persian Gulf, the more extreme elements, notably the Islamist group ISIS that took Iraq’s second city, Mosul, earlier this month, lack foreign support. As a whole, it is therefore unlikely to be able to menace the Shi’a heartland in the southeast of Iraq.

Lacking popular support for its purist interpretation of Islam, Wikistrat predicts ISIS will also struggle to govern a landlocked “Mesopotamian Caliphate”. Repeated rounds of internecine conflict and suppression within the Sunni axis are likely. Two years from now, Iraq’s Sunni heartland may look just as complicated as Syria’s.

Despite the ideological weight and tangible firepower that Iran could bring to the conflict, the Shi’a axis is at the same time hard pressed to reassert authority over the Sunni heartland. Its priority will be protecting Baghdad (now a mostly Shi’a city), the oil sector and its critical infrastructure, religious sites (which ISIS has threatened to target) and the majority Shi’a population from Basra to the capital.

Finally, the Kurds are a threat to neither and pose little threat to neighboring Iran and Turkey. Indeed, with strong revenues, a coherent government, a robust security force and additional autonomy from Baghdad, the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) stands to serve as a northern Sunni buffer from the jihadist turmoil in Mesopotamia.

Wikistrat believes the consolidation of Iraqi, Syrian, Turkish and Iranian Kurds under one state or even a push for independence by Iraqi Kurds is unlikely in the short term. Political and cultural differences among the various Kurdish groups will forestall unification while the KRG is more likely to develop its economy, solidify its commercial relationship with Turkey and ensure that its autonomy is made irreversible.

Click here to download the PDF report.

For more information about Wikistrat and for access to the full simulation archive, contact info@wikistrat.com.

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New Wikistrat Simulation: When Scotland Leaves the UK


 

When Scotland Leaves the UK banner

Today, Wikistrat launches a new two-week crowdsourced simulation called “When Scotland Leaves the UK” in which analysts are invited to explore scenario pathways for Scotland’s emergence as an independent country.

After years of debate, Scotland nears a landmark referendum on whether or not to secede from the United Kingdom. The vote on independence, scheduled to take place on September 18, 2014, requires a simple majority to pass and will determine the shape of the country’s political environment for years to come. It will also likely have an influence on other secessionist movements in Europe, including those in the north of Belgium and Catalonia, Spain.

The opportunities potentially available to an independent Scotland have led commentators to suggest that the country could become one of Europe’s wealthiest. Significant access to massive oil reserves in the North Sea make Scotland one of the continent’s few serious resource extractors, while favorable environmental conditions — namely reliably active trade winds and a mild climate — speak to the promise in plans for a renewable energy-exporting industry.

Moreover, the country’s small tax base lends credence to the notion that Scotland would build its new governmental institutions along the lines pioneered by countries like Denmark and Qatar — minimal, efficient and geared toward supporting national commerce. The resultant national system, characterized by a budding economy and low spending needs, could be massively profitable.

However, the Scottish National Party’s (SNP) plan for a post-independent Scotland faces massive, if uncoordinated, opposition. Public opinion varies widely. Polls haven’t placed support for independence at higher than 40 percent nationwide, but low turnout could swing the vote in the nationalists’ favor. Low turnout in the 1997 referendum on devolution is what led to the creation of a Scottish Parliament, now dominated by the SNP.

Questions have also been raised about the feasibility of the SNP’s plans by opponents in both London and Edinburgh. How, for example, is Scotland to secure the massive investments needed to develop its oil and renewables energy sector? And what are the true costs and aims of post-transition Scottish defense policies?

Perhaps more worryingly, the SNP has offered up little in attempting to remedy the allegation that Scotland could face massive legal and financial challenges when it comes to redefining political and economic relationships with Europe and the United Kingdom. Current plans, for example, call for the continued use of British pound and the Bank of England as the lender of last resort. Such a monetary union calls into question the feasibility of SNP plans to grow and transform Scotland’s economy, as the need for bilateral agreement on policy could limit the types of actions Salmond has suggested taking and Scottish disregard for common spending limits could lead to currency instability.

There are clear incentives for Scots to vote in favor of opportune and potentially profitable policies. The question is whether or not such promises lie in the reality of independence from the United Kingdom. Will such a move help the country in the long term? Or do the transitional and long-term challenges make British solidarity the sound choice?

Rather than focus on near-term drivers of the Scottish independence movement, this Wikistrat simulation assumes a successful independence bid set within the next five years. Such an assumption enables participants to offer long-term, yet timely analysis by addressing those issues that might shape assessments of the feasibility of independence. (more…)

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